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Belfast councillor who likes sight of chief exec on her bike lands himself in sexism row

By Suzanne Breen

A DUP councillor is at the centre of a sexism storm after remarks he made about enjoying the sight of the council's chief executive on a bicycle.

Councillor Graham Craig made the controversial comments at a meeting of Belfast City Council last night as the chief executive, Suzanne Wylie, sat in the chamber observing proceedings.

The remarks have been condemned by Alliance, SDLP, and Green councillors who have urged the DUP representative to withdraw them.

Mr Craig, who defected from the Ulster Unionists to the DUP last year, made the comments during a debate about cycling in the city.

Speaking after a PUP councillor, Dr John Kyle, had spoken on the issue, Mr Craig said: "I'm not sure that it's pleasure but he (Councillor Kyle) whizzes past me the odd morning on his way into work as I'm walking down the greenway.

"And I often have the slightly greater pleasure of the chief executive whizzing past me on her bicycle in the morning which does quicken one's step slightly."

Mr Craig's comments caused some laughter in the chamber - but he was also asked to withdraw them by SDLP councillor Donal Lyons.

Mr Lyons urged the DUP representative to "reflect on his comments and show even the basic level of respect to everyone who sits in this chamber".

The DUP Lord Mayor, Brian Kingston, who was sitting beside Ms Wylie, said he would have to agree on the question of personal comments and that "we should think before we speak and speak appropriately".

Video footage of the meeting shows Mr Craig smiling and making the comments in attempted good humour.

He could not be contacted for comment last night.

Alliance Party councillor Michael Long said: "Our party group is shocked and disgusted at the comments Graham Craig made about the most senior council employee in Northern Ireland.

"They were totally sexist and totally unacceptable.

"He was given ample opportunity to apologise for what he said in the chamber and to withdraw his remarks.

"He ignored those requests and chose not to do so."

Mr Long said he spoke to Ms Wylie after the meeting: "She is the consummate professional and not one to make a show, but I believe that she was upset at what was said.

"They were very unhelpful comments and Graham Craig must withdraw them.

"Language like that belongs to another era. It has no place in a council and a city which is moving with the times."

Mr Lyons said: "I urged Councillor Craig to withdraw the remarks but he chose not to do so.

"To make comments like that with the chief executive sitting in the room is wrong and disrespectful.

"She should not have to face that type of commentary.

"I would urge Councillor Craig, even at this stage, to withdraw them."

Writing on Facebook, PUP councillor Julie-Anne Corr Johnston said she was dismayed at the "objectifying and sexualising of a female member of council".

She said she was disgusted that "despite vocal opposition and ample opportunity", Mr Craig had not apologised.

Ms Corr-Johnston also claimed that Ms Wylie had been embarrassed.

In another Facebook comment, Green councillor Georgina Milne said: "Such blatant sexism has no place in society but especially during the very public forum of the council meeting."

Mr Craig is one of the most colourful members of Belfast City Council.

He is a big Bruce Springsteen fan and last year went to five of the rock star's concerts within 10 days.

"Some of my mates think I'm a bit mad," he told the Belfast Telegraph last year.

"But I fell in love with Bruce's music as a schoolboy growing up in Castlederg and I'm still smitten.

"I was 13 when 'Born in the USA' was released. Bruce sang about small-town America, but he just as easily could have penned those lyrics about small-town Northern Ireland.

"He sang about the mills closing down, about poverty, despair, violence and tragedy."

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